“Five-Tool” Freshman Caroline Bien Making Waves in her First Year at Kansas
Kansas outsider hitter Caroline Bien is a unicorn in every sense of the word—a rare athlete that can seemingly do it all on the volleyball court.
And she’s only a freshman.
The Overland Park native hasn’t even been in college for a year, and she’s already making waves at the Division I level. Speaking of waves, Kansas fans were probably doing “The Wave” after watching Bien help lead the team to wins in the Kansas Invitational and Jayhawk Classic in September—all while collecting back-to-back Big 12 Rookie of the Week awards.
If Coach Ray Bechard had to make a comparison, he’d compare Bien to a five-tool player in baseball.
“She’s a multi-talented player. In baseball, they call it a five-tool player, or there are other sports where kids can do a lot of different things,” said Bechard. “She can pass at a high level. She can attack at a high level. She’s one of our best back-row defenders, servers, and blockers—so a six rotation outside. It’s pretty impressive for a freshman to come in and create really good opportunities in all of those areas, and it has been key in her early season success.”
After hearing Bechard’s comments, it should come as no surprise that Bien actually lettered in four different sports in high school. Along with volleyball, she found success in bowling, diving, and track & field.
Opportunities might have presented themselves in all of those sports, but Bien has been enamored with volleyball ever since she was in second grade. She’d go to all of her sister’s practices and games with her mom serving as a coach for the recreational team.
So, you could say the sport of volleyball runs in the blood.
Bien instantly fell in love with the team aspects of the game, but she never dreamed it would lead to her not only becoming a student-athlete but finding immediate success at the D1 level.
“I never really thought about playing in college early on. I sure bet my parents did, though,” said Bien. “It all sort of sneaks up on you. You’re playing a sport that you love for fun, and all of a sudden, you’re at club tournaments with like 30 college coaches around your court.”
Coach Bechard was one of the coaches paying attention to the rising talent. It’s rare to find a young player that can make that immediate leap from high school to the college level, but there was something about Bien’s game that led the KU coaching staff to believe she was capable of contributing right away.
And so the push was made to sign her.
“We thought she’d have a chance to impact right away, but you don’t know until they get here and you submerge them in this Division I culture and the level that’s expected every day,” Bechard said. “We knew she had a high volleyball IQ. Her platform skills were at a high level, and now her attacking, too. Her shot selection at this level has really been a pleasant surprise. So we’re excited about where she’s at, and we know she has another area of growth in her to where she can continue to build on her great start.”
All of this is seemingly a whirlwind for Bien, considering she has been watching KU volleyball for most of her life. There was just something about the team that attracted her immediately to the program.
So, it has obviously been a bit jarring to go from playing in high school to competing for the same team she’s watched ever since she was a kid.
And to think, it all started with a phone call from Coach Bechard.
“It’s crazy even thinking about it. I remember the exact moment when I was in my room talking on the phone with Coach B,” Bien said. “It was such a dream come true because I’ve always grown up watching KU volleyball. It was just the atmosphere and coaches, you know? Playing for them has always been my main goal.”
That’s one goal down. Check.
The other goal is obviously to continue building on her strong start as a Jayhawk. She currently has 225 kills in 70 sets played with an average of 2.79 kills per set. The numbers suggest she’s well on her way towards doing big things at Kansas.
Of course, not every week is going to end with awards and a pouring rain of confetti. She’s still a freshman, and it’ll be a long process of maximizing her talent on the floor. But in alignment with a popular cliché, for Bien, it seems like the sky is the limit.
However, she is taking it all in stride with the sort of humble positivity any coach would love to see from a young player.
“Honestly, there are times when I wonder why I even got Rookie of the Week,” said Bien. “But it does help hold me to a higher standard. I want to play and compete at an even higher level to surpass the things that I’ve done. Believe me, none of this was expected, but I plan on making the most of it and continuing to turn it into a positive and hopefully help my team win games.”
The individual accolades have been great, but Bien cares more about what she brings to the table as a teammate. That team dynamic made her fall in love with the sport in the first place, and it has driven her to the early success she’s now seeing at the D1 level.
For her, it’s all about building trust and chemistry in the locker room. If the team believes in one another, anything is possible on the court.
“I’ve always taken pride in the fact that I’m a calming presence on the court. I don’t get super high or super low. I’d say I’m a pretty steady and consistent player, which I feel like makes me a good player to trust on the court,” said Bien. “As a team, I feel like everyone wants to trust each other. I know I trust all of my teammates.”